Monday, August 24, 2015

Top 200 Favorite Songs, Part 15

(If you're just tuning in, I'm doing a rundown of my Top 200 Favorite Songs-see the bottom of the page for previous entries and welcome!)

I have long been someone defined by their "favorites."  I categorize, I sort, I rank, and I have done it for as long as I can remember.  While I don't have every list I've ever made, there is probably only one person who has been present on every iteration of my favorite actors list since I started making them, and that is Angela Lansbury.  There is video of me at the age of about four, in fact, hurriedly running over to the TV when Murder, She Wrote was on.  I was obsessed, and still am, quite frankly (I am giddy whenever there's a marathon on television, and I slowly have been buying every season on DVD).  Lansbury, though, wasn't just Jessica Fletcher to me-she was also the star of a handful of my most beloved movies.  Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris (anyone know if they ever got this one on DVD?), Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and most importantly my favorite Disney movie Beauty and the Beast.  Her wonderfully wry Mrs. Potts was just perfect to me-I couldn't get enough of her bouncy British humor, and I was stunned when I learned that she not only could sing, but could do so enchantingly.  Hearing her carry over as Belle and Beast swooped across a magical French ballroom, I was breathless.  As I got older I learned that she was an accomplished actress, albeit one that the movies had largely forgotten save for a few classic parts (particularly Mrs. John Iselin, for which she would have won that Oscar, Patty Duke be damned), and instead was a favorite more of the Broadway stage.  Seeing her in-person when she did Gore Vidal's The Best Man was a thrill of a lifetime, and though I didn't get to meet her (she didn't do the stage door that night, sadly), being that close to my childhood icon was something that even that four-year-old couldn't have dreamt up.  I may make lists, but Angela Lansbury is always in a class by herself.

60. "Rhiannon," Fleetwood Mac (1975)

No one in the world has a voice like Stevie Nicks.  Such confidence, such control-I love the way that she sings that first line as if she's been singing the song for several minutes, almost as if she's closing the song.  Her voice has never aged, and she still stays magic (I'm aware that the above is not the traditional performance from the album, but it's Stevie Nicks live-your world is going to be rocked regardless).

59. "Crazy," Gnarls Barkley (2006)

Weirdly the only song on this list where the title is listed twice (the other being Patsy Cline-if you didn't know that, catch up below).  The manic in Cee-Lo Green's voice in this song is absolutely spellbinding, there's something just a little off in it that makes it recall something that Grace Slick might have sang in her heyday.  Green may not have had to go "crazy" to be a genius, but I'm glad he went "Crazy."

58. "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," Roberta Flack (1972)

I did a bit of graduating in my taste with this song.  I first heard it when it was covered by Leona Lewis, and I was blown away at the haunting and terribly romantic lyrics.  However, once I heard Flack tackle it, stripping it Lewis' gloss and filling it full of feeling, I realized that a singer who felt their music was incredibly tangible, and always preferable.  It may have ruined my taste for singing competition shows, but it made moments in the dark playing old records that much more enchanting.

57. "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," Willie Nelson (1975)

The song that transformed Willie Nelson from being a songwriter to one of the biggest singers in country music, "Blue Eyes Crying in My Rain" will eternally be for me a song I listened to in a casino parking lot, listening to Willie do it at the close of his concert.  Willie Nelson concerts get quite the selection of attendees, but they all go hush when he starts in on this pitch-perfect country ballad.

56. "As Time Goes By," Dooley Wilson (1942)

We've profiled a lot of different songs from my favorite movies in these rundowns, but this one is notable of course for being my favorite movie, full stop.  Casablanca actually has a number of memorable musical moments, but none is quite the same as Dooley Wilson crooning "a kiss is still a kiss."

55. "Beauty and the Beast," Angela Lansbury (1991)

Take a lesson here filmmakers-you don't have to hire the hottest pop act on the charts to create something iconic and memorable-instead, picking an aging movie star who can put emotion, heart, and desperate soul into her work is almost certainly the better way to go.  Lansbury's voice reveals not only the romance in front of us, but universal love itself.

54. "Downtown Train," Everything But the Girl (1990)

Yes, the song by Rod Stewart, but you've never heard the song quite like this.  The first time I heard this version, I kept thinking of standing on a subway platform late at night, coming home from work.  I was typically tired, typically a little nervous about the walk home in the dark (I lived in the Bronx people), but mostly I was just enamored by the city-there's a magic when all of the stress sort of lifts in New York and you just get to be a part of the sound.  That's what this song means to me.

53. "Moon River," Henry Mancini (1961)

My brother and I have a cavalcade of private jokes, but probably toward the top of the list is a line we got from the AFI 100 Years series when someone (I believe it was Jennifer Love Hewitt), said "love isn't love unless you're kissing in the rain, with an orange cat."  That line has always made us laugh, but it is a testament to Ms. Hewitt's taste that it's true-love has never been quite as romantic as Breakfast at Tiffany's, and in particular Henry Mancini's search for a "huckleberry friend."

52. "Imagine," John Lennon (1971)

Written in the wake of the Beatles breakup, John Lennon became a voice of a generation with this call to peace.  Decades later, it's impossible to believe such a song exists and was such a monumental hit.  Simple, but profound, courting controversy ("imagine no religion" is something no one would be able to get away with on the radio airwaves today, though Hozier recently tested that theory), the song is the quintessential protest song, but oddly it does that by inviting us all to live as one.

51. "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want," The Smiths (1984)

Morrissey may have become as controversial as swearing in some sects of British culture, but his work in The Smiths lives eternally up to the hype.  I don't care if it's hipster cliche-this is one of my all-time favorite bands, and this song, one of the most personal in their discography, is spellbinding in its briefness and honesty.  Seriously-watch the above performance if you don't get what I'm talking about.

And there we have it-the Top 50 begins tomorrow, but before then have we finally got some of your favorites, or are you holding out for a specific tune still?  What are your memories of Dame Angela Lansbury?  Share in the comments!

If you've missed any of the past installments, go ahead and click: Part 123456789101112, 13, 14

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